During remarks at the American Enterprise Institute
recently in Washington, Tedeschi said some servicemembers found the
changes in their lives so profound after combat, they expressed
gratitude for having gone through it — even if it cost them permanent
“They’d felt they’d changed as people in ways they otherwise
wouldn’t have,” Tedeschi says. “At the same time, as this trauma
separates them from other people, it also allows them to maybe see
themselves as more human than they ever were before, have a closer
connection with what it means to be a human being .”
You know, I don’t doubt this happens. After all, people have a
tendency to try to integrate their experiences for growth. But there’s
a fine line between that voluntary process and being cajoled by the
Army into pretending you don’t have problems.
I used to write about this stuff all the time when I was writing aboutGalactica, and 9/11, and all the horrible shit my friends and I put each other through once upon a time:
That which does not kill us takes away our best friends, our arms
and legs, our hair and eyes and lungs and hearts. That which does not
kill us pushes us onward. Come out of the chrysalis and you can tell
yourself you’re more beautiful, if that makes it better, if it soothes
your sting. I don’t care, particularly. Does the pain really make us
who we are, or is that what we tell ourselves in order to survive it?
Can we ever see the worth of the race at the finish line? Or do we need
another hundred thousand years?
Because otherwise, if it’s not Meaningful and Necessary, it’s burned
and blackened and stupid, empty, half a bridge to nowhere on a
deserted, bombed-out world. Otherwise it’s just what you dreamed of,
destitute and lost, the thing you bought at the cost of your miserable
I’m too involved with my own coping strategies these days to slam anyone else’s, except to say that it’s so, so, so easy to confuse “necessary” and “okay.” Most of us do it all day long anyway, because shitty things that happened to you have to be necessary in order that they no longer be shitty. For the story to make sense in retrospect, for it to fit inside where you need to keep it, you have to trim the hard edges off. Repeat something often enough, like your story about the hard times, and it starts to seem less real, and more like a movie you once saw.
But we only ever tell the story in retrospect. Poverty is a useful lesson, once you’re wealthy. Hunger may make the feast seem sweeter but there has to be a feast for you to taste first. Nobody says, while hurting, this pain is teaching me something. It’s only afterward, when the pain is gone. It has to be over, first, before it can become A Moment, and that’s where the idea that one should be grateful for one’s misfortune becomes the worst kind of condescension. Kids today don’t know how rough you had it. They only know how rough they have it, because that’s all any of us know.
So don’t tell me my pain will be useful someday. And don’t ask someone else to endure something you think will be good for him. The only lessons you’re responsible for are your own. You can’t tell me what was worth it. You have no idea. None of us do.